Rio Negro 4

Rio Negro 4


Up the Rio Negro 4
By Uncle Bill

The following morning we caught more varieties of apistos, lots of cardinals, some hatchetfish, pencilfish and the variety of bleeding-heart tetra found in the Rio Negro. It differs from the Peruvian type commonly seen in our aquariums by being smaller and somewhat less colorful. All that we collected are juveniles so I can't describe their adult size or coloration just yet. They are quite an attractive fish and behave like a school of pirana at feeding time.

A temporary island in the Rio Negro. Within a month these trees will be underwater as the river rises.

Early in the afternoon, we left Igarape Zamulo and stopped at Ilha do Urumari, a small island and holding station on our way to Igarape Maki. Here fishermen come to leave their catches of discus and angels in holding pens to await a passing exporter's boat. It was here that I "collected" my blue-headed Heckles along with a couple of dozen altums and a lone P. leopoldi. The Rio Demeni holds all four of the angles; P. scalare, altum, leopoldi and demerelii. After purchasing various sizes of discus and the angles, we were off to Igarape Maki. If this sounds like a whirlwind tour, it was.

Igarape Maki was only a "port of call". After breakfast we headed for the Rio Demeni.

As we traveled up the Rio Demeni, Silas explained that there were no discus on the left bank of the river, only on the right. For some reason, the water quality differs from one side to the other. The banks were more like cliffs climbing 20 or more feet from the river and were covered in places with holes of 2 to 6 inchs in diameter. These were the nests of assorted suckermouth catfish. Later, we caught several for dinner.

We tied up at one of the many fishermen's camping spots on the Igarape Erete. I was about to get my hammock down for a much needed afternoon nap when Silas announced that we were going fishing.

Discus live under and way back in behind the branches that look like shoreline. Actually, the "shoreline" is the tops of 20' - 30' trees that will soon disappear with the coming heavy rains.

Normally I would go with Crispin and my wife, Nancy, would be with Silas. Today, Silas decided that I would accompany him and Nancy would go with Carlos, his 11 year old grandson! It's one thing to enjoy a Sunday afternoon on your local municipal pond in a row boat with a picnic basket, happily waving to friends on shore. It is quite another to go into the rainforest in a dugout canoe with an 11 year old boy as your wife's boatman.

Once in the forest, all of my reservations immediately vanished. This little boy was truly a child of the forest. Manning that canoe with the expertise of his father, he never made the slightest noise while pushing aside overhanging branches, cutting vines that blocked his way and paddling all the while, much of the time with one hand. Occasionally we would split up to explore different areas and their fishes. However far apart we got, Silas and Carlos were in constant communication with each other in hushed tones that were barely audible at the other end of the canoe. It was amazing how the sound traveled across the water and through the trees.

Back at the boat four hours later, we unloaded our catch of apistos and assorted tetras and prepared for our last meal in the rainforest. It was the usual gourmet's delight: fish, manioc and rice (that we had grown to love) along with the last of the canned peaches. We had run out of coffee that morning and the soft drinks and bottled water were long gone. We finished dinner, untied the tether rope and began the allnight trip down the river to Barcellos. It was time to return to "civilization"

Asher Benzaken had arranged a plane flight back to Manaus for us and our fish. We arrived in Barcellos that morning and began packing the fish. The plane was scheduled to take off at 2:00 P.M. (Amazon time). We had enough time to purchase our tickets, pack the fish, get a taxi and catch the plane.

At 1:00 P.M. we were ready and at the "airline" office. A message came in on the short-wave radio: "Having landing gear trouble - flight cancelled. Maybe tomorrow."

Our last night on the Rio Negro.

No, not "maybe tomorrow." Not now. Not ever. We returned our tickets, unpacked the fish into open plastic transport boxes, grabbed them and our luggage and went to the ferryboat. It left the next day and we and our fish spent the night on the ferry.

Since the return trip to Manaus is downstream, it takes a full day less of travel time. Asher's man met us at the dock when we arrived Sunday night and loaded our fish on his truck for the trip back to Turkys Aquarium. There they would be properly packaged for their flight to San Francisco. A hotel bed had never looked so good.

The next morning we took a taxi out to Turkys Aquarium, said our "thank-yous" and "good-byes", picked up our fish and were off to the airport.

23 hours later: "Hello San Francisco!"

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